Sunday, October 26, 2014

Chapter Nine   The Screenplay Visualized.

London. 1889. Interior Victorian bedroom.

Heavy curtains are drawn letting in only a sliver of daylight. The room is typical of the upper class taste of the era although the dark wood and velvet green furniture has a distinctly worn and dusty look. A dimly lit oil lamp on the fireplace mantel illuminates a collection of old family photographs.

I’m in bed, unmoving, my face turned to the wall. An assortment of medicine bottles and untouched food is on a table beside me. Tacked up on the wall is the front page of the Pall Mall Gazette on which Annie Besant’s name appears in large letters next an article on “The Match Girl’s Strike.”  

Muffled voices are heard fighting outside her door, till the door is thrust open and there stands a large imposing looking woman with an exasperated housekeeper: “I told her you were not seeing anyone!”

The 200+ pound Madam Blavatsky, dressed in dark silks and brocades lumbers over to the bedside. She is carrying a huge hard-bound book under her arm, and her round head is covered by a thin black shawl. Her protruding eyes pierce me to the quick. She extends her hand and speaks in a low deep voice with Russian accent.

 “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky… my dear Mrs. Besant, for so long I have wished to meet you…”

I timidly turned over and extended my hand. Madame held it for too long. I pulled my hand back and turned my face to the wall. I could still see Madame surveying the room and noticing the untouched food. “You’re not eating.”

“Please…go away. I saw you there in the courtroom that day; you know it all; I know who you are.”

 Madame sniffed, her neck arching. “I saw a woman with great courage there; a woman ahead of her time. What do those men know?”

I turned my flushed face back to Madame. “What do you know?”

“I know whatever I need to know; I get my orders from the Masters.”

“I’m sorry, Madam Blavatsky, but I don’t believe in spiritualism…or you.” My neck stiffened.
Madame jabs her hand in the air: “No need to believe. You have to experience! Your life is of no use to anyone now! Look at you! Do you know you have a destiny to fulfill? So what’s all this?” Her hand waved across the room in disgust. “Flapdoodle! You are going to be a victim now? Rot away in this room? You think this is what you were meant for?”

I said nothing.

She leaned over my bed, too close to my face. “Sometimes…you have to fail in the eyes of the world first…”

“Oh I can seem to win, but inside…I feel as if I’ve failed.” I sat up.

“It’s because you don’t have any idea how it all fits together! One day you’re picketing the factories and writing letters to the big wigs to squeeze a shilling out of them for the girls--” She lumbered over to the newspaper headlines of the Match Girls I had hung on the wall to bring my spirits up, but she pulled it down, and stuck it under my nose. “And then you see these girls slapping their children around, drinking, having more children…eh? And you, you’re writing books for them about how not to have more babies---yes? Then you collapse in despair because nothing seems to change. Eh? Am I right?”

“You’re right.” I said. It was uncanny how she knew exactly what was bothering me—after the strike I had seen one of the match girls on the street hitting her child and yelling profanities. But that wasn’t the real issue; it was the trial. “They took my daughter away! They said I was an unfit mother.” And then there was Shaw, and I had stopped going to the Socialist meetings. I was truly alone.

“You don’t know your worth.” Madame stood up and started moving about the room again. Spotting a photograph she picked it up; it was an old daguerreotype of me and my mother. Madame took it off the mantel and handed it to me.

 “Open it,” she demanded.

“No!—what right have you—this is my mother!” I took it out of her hands.

“Yes, I know. Please, just read me what’s behind the photograph.” She leaned over and her large protruding eyes bore into me.

“How do you know something’s behind here?” My fingers caressed my mother’s image; then I stuck my nail between the glass and frame and tried to extract what I had hidden there.

Madame picked up a letter opener from the night table—and swaying it like a long elegant knife, she made a sword-like gesture mimicking a queen handing a sword to her knight.

I reluctantly pried open the back of the daguerreotype and unraveled the old letter. “Dearest Mama…” I stopped.

Madame tilted her head. “Go on…go on—just the last paragraph.”

I coughed. What choice did I have? “An imperious necessity forces me to speak the Truth as I see it, whether the speech please or displease, whether it brings praise or blame. That one loyalty to Truth I must keep whatever friendships fail me or human ties be broken…”

 “Go on. Go on!” Madame insisted.

 “…for when it is my time to go, dearest Mama, I ask no other epitaph for my tomb than “She tried to follow Truth.”

That’s it! ‘A noble person, for a noble cause.’ I have need of you, Mrs. Besant. Come see me.” She reached into her bag and handed me her card. Then she handed me the book she’d been holding, The Secret Doctrine.  “Come see me when you finish it! You might want to review it for your newspaper.”

How could a meeting so unexpected and so awful be just what I needed then? I poured over the book, and the more I read, the more I liked. The ideas she wrote about were the only things that made sense to me. The ideas of karma and reincarnation, of divine justice and the Soul’s evolution soothed my Soul.  (c) Elizabeth Spring

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